Sports Mole previews Friday’s World Cup Qualifying – North Central America clash between USA and El Salvador, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Thursday marks the beginning of the second to last CONCACAF qualifying window for World Cup 2022 as the USA put their unbeaten run against El Salvador on the line when they face them at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio.
The Yanks are unbeaten in their last 18 matches played on American soil, currently in second place in the Octagonal phase, while La Selecta sit second from the bottom with six points after blowing a second-half advantage in their previous qualifier last November, losing 2-1 to Panama.
The road to Qatar has been filled with bumps and setbacks for Gregg Berhalter and the US national team, who have not always looked impressive but are in a solid position to get back to the World Cup after missing out in 2018.
In their previous qualifier in Jamaica, they had an opportunity to maintain a 100% record in that qualifying window when Tim Weah put them in front after 11 minutes, before Michail Antonio evened the match at one, as the contest finished in a 1-1 draw.
More than anything that game showed that the reigning Gold Cup champions still have some areas that need fixing, particularly at the back, as the US were caught napping on a few occasions.
They will consider themselves fortunate to escape defeat in that November fixture as Bobby Reid missed a glorious chance in the second half from point-blank range, and a headed goal from Damion Lowe with about five minutes remaining was controversially disallowed, with the referee calling the new Inter Miami defender (Lowe) for a questionable foul over the back of Walker Zimmerman.
Playing in the intense environments of Central America can certainly present its share of challenges, however, picking up a victory in the US is an equally challenging task, as no team has been able to beat The Yanks on their home field since Venezuela won 3-0 in a friendly at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on June 9, 2019.
Since that defeat, the only minor hiccup that this team have suffered in the US was a 1-1 draw versus Canada in their second game in the Octagon, as they have outscored their opponents 6-2 at home in the final qualifying phase thus far.
Stars and Stripes have conceded the opening goal three times in their eight qualifiers in this campaign, but have shown plenty of resiliency, scoring four goals in the second half to beat Honduras (4-1) and coming back to beat Costa Rica in October (2-1).
For Hugo Perez and El Salvador, this phase of qualifying has been about missed opportunities, as they conceded twice to Los Ticos despite going in front after 12 minutes of play in a 2-1 defeat, and then falling by the same score to Panama even though they took the lead in the opening minute, plus they had to settle for a 1-1 draw in San Salvador versus the Jamaicans, in a game where they outshot the opposition 4-2 and had 60% of the possession.
If they want to get themselves back in the race for a spot in Qatar, La Selecta have a lot of work to do, currently eight points behind Mexico for a guaranteed place in the finals this November after eight matches played.
In their entire history, El Salvador have never come away victorious against the USA in 24 games played against them, with the Americans outscoring them 15-2 in their last five meetings.
Perez concocted a terrific game plan against the States in their last meeting in September as his players stifled the team that he represented 73 times in his playing career, forcing them to play direct, with some tight-marking, rarely conceding any quality chances.
This side have fought hard away from home in the Octagon but have nothing to show for it, losing all three of their road contests thus far against Canada, Panama and Costa Rica.
La Selecta played a lot more offensively in the previous qualification window, and were exposed in transition, allowing eight shots on target to the Panamanians, which is very uncharacteristic for this squad, who conceded a mere three combined efforts on target in their first two games played in this final round of qualifying.
When you step onto the field to face this side, you might want to brace yourself for a physical encounter as El Salvador have committed 63 fouls in their last four qualifying fixtures, while also picking up two red cards over that time.
USA World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
USA form (all competitions):
El Salvador World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
El Salvador form (all competitions):
Miles Robinson missed the last qualifying match for the Yanks back in November following his late expulsion in their victory over Mexico, while Weston McKennie did not feature in that encounter due to a yellow card suspension, as Chris Richards and Gianluca Busio replaced them, while Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson are the only players to see the field in every one of their qualifiers thus far, as they both started versus the Jamaicans.
Sergino Dest returns to the national team after missing the previous window, while Jordan Morris was named to the American side ahead of these upcoming fixtures, his first call-up to the national team since 2017.
Ricardo Pepi leads the US in goals so far in this campaign, with three, while Christian Pulisic, who notched the winner versus the Mexicans in November, needs two more goals to draw even with Eddie Johnson for eighth all-time for his country.
Romulo Villalobos scored his first international goal for El Salvador in a 1-1 draw with Ecuador in early December, while American born midfielder Alex Roldan rescued a point for the Salvadorians in their draw with the Reggae Boyz and Nelson Bonilla has a chance to move into a tie with Rudis Corrales for sixth all-time in goals for this team, currently with 17 on the international stage.
Should Darwin Ceren see the field on Thursday, he would move into a tie for third in all-time appearances for El Salvador, as he is one back of Leonel Carcamo at the moment (81), and he needs only five more caps to beat the record set by the late Alfredo Pacheco.
La Selecta have been missing the presence of David Rugamas, who found the back of the net eight times in the earlier qualifying stages, but has not featured in this phase of the competition, with their next highest tally coming from Joshua Perez with three goals.
USA possible starting lineup:
Steffen; A. Robinson, Zimmerman, M. Robinson, Yedlin; McKennie, Adams, Musah; Aaronson, Pepi, Pulisic
El Salvador possible starting lineup:
Gonzalez; Larin, Dominguez, Zavaleta, Tamacas; Martinez; A. Roldan, Hernandez, Ceren; Henriquez, Rivas
We say: USA 1-0 El Salvador
Even though they more than held their own in their last match versus the Americans, El Salvador are a different team away from home, while the United States have squeaked out several points in the Octagon because of their individual quality, which could win them this game as well.
Expect to see La Selecta play with a lot of physicality, while trying to throw the skilled Americans off their game with lots of fouls and hacks, but you have to think that the US should still have enough to collect three points.
Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data
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